Burnout is insidious. At least in the few (too many) burnout cycles I have been through.
First it starts out as a bit of stress. And then the pressure mounts both externally and within. But I tend to convince myself that I can manage everything I have going on and just need to keep pushing through. And then the sleepless nights, the lack of self care, the health conditions that manifest.
And before I know it, I am not really sure what even hit me.
I have been through this before…more times than I care to admit.
Burnout, recover, promise not to do it again and then burnout again.
That seems to be the pattern of a workaholic.
Because the line of work and too much work gets blurred so easily.
The latest burnout cycle happened late last year / early this year.
I remember the day like it was yesterday.
I walked down the stairs to where my partner was sitting, curled up on the couch, burst out into tears and said that I could no longer do any of this. I was burnt out AF, exhausted, depressed, anxious and unsure of what my next step would be. I wanted to burn it all down.
It had been almost a year of 15+ hour workdays, 7 days a week. And only one full day in all of that.
I just kept taking on more clients and pushing myself even further. And while I had a team, I didn’t have the support or system in place to delegate much.
While I was making the money I had been wanting for years. Hitting the milestones that many businesses strive for.
And yet it was at the sacrifice of my life, my sanity, my family.
The Breaking Point
After I broke down and cried for a couple of hours, while my partner held space, he demanded that I leave my devices on the kitchen table and go upstairs and watch a movie and take a nap.
That was the most relief I had felt in over a year.
I laid down in bed and slept away the afternoon. I put aside my worries of what my clients would think of me not being available to answer their calls, or get their tasks completed. I was too exhausted to care. I was so beaten up emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
I had been here before.
Luckily this time didn’t end in a health crisis as had happened in previous times.
But it could have.
I promised myself to end this burnout cycle, one I had become all too comfortable with.
As much as I wish I could say it’s an easy process, that hasn’t been my experience. However this time was different. I actually had support and resources.
As they say, awareness is the first step.
Here are some signs to look for, within you your employees, your loved ones. This list is not exhaustive and some of these signs may be symptoms of other issues so check with your medical professional and this list is not to replace medical advice.
- Feeling defeated or like a failure
- Disengaged from work
- Loss of sense of purpose
- Little motivation
- Increasingly feeling negative or cynical
- Loss of interest in things that you normally enjoy
- Increased self-doubt
- Tired or exhausted
- Increased headaches and muscle tension
- Increased illness or lowered immune response
- Feeling frustrated or on edge
- Increased feelings of self-doubt
- Change in sleep or eating habits
Burnout Awareness & Recovery
While I had experienced many cycles of burnout before, this time was different. Part of it was that this time, I was not only mentally, physically, and emotionally burnt out, I was spiritually exhausted.
And by that, I mean that I no longer felt a lot of connection to who I am, my purpose, my spiritual practices. I felt abandoned and questioned whether there was a higher power guiding me through life.
My recovery didn’t happen overnight. It’s been months in the making.
I started to unpack the limiting beliefs and conditioning that had gotten me here in the first place. This is where it really starts. Our beliefs and conditioning are driving us all of the time.
Some of the limiting beliefs that I discovered:
- I have to work hard for money
- My worth is tied to my work
- There is no room for error (perfectionism)
- The harder I work, the higher chance of success
- I’m not valuable if I rest
- I don’t have time to rest
- People are counting on me and I have to do this now
- I can’t ask for help or no one knows how to support me
- I can’t let people see the real me so I have to hide behind my work
These were heavy. They drove so much of my behavior.
At first, my process included forcing myself to rest and take time off.
Your inner critic will chime loudly to get back to work, to tell you that you are going to fail, that you will lose your business or job. Using affirmations helped me a lot in these cases. “Rest is productive” or “I deserve time off”.
Let go of things that aren’t aligned. If this is your job, make a plan to be in better alignment with your work. This may mean a job change but it could be an honest conversation with your manager about how you are feeling.
Seek professional help. Whether you work with a counselor, therapist, coach (or all of the above), seeking help is not a weakness. It is one of the best investments you will make in yourself.
Learn to say no. Remember that every time you say no to one thing, you are creating and holding space for your yeses to fall in.
Set boundaries. This is a big topic and not one I could cover in this post but here is a book list to check out.
Ask for help. I had to ask clearly for my loved ones to do things I had normally taken on myself.
What have you done to recover from burnout?